A plan to improve the reliability, safety and overall service quality of Yellowstone National Park's electrical power distribution has been approved.
A Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) that allows for Yellowstone to work with Northwestern Energy (NWE) to help the company implement power and communications infrastructure upgrades within the park was signed by Sue Masica, the Director of the Intermountain Region of the National Park Service. An Environmental Assessment (EA) that analyzed four alternatives was released for public comment November 6, 2013, and was extended an additional 15 days on Dec. 2, 2013.
The plan seeks to reduce the duration of power outages, improve system reliability, and improve visitor and employee safety. Much of NWE's existing power infrastructure in the park has not been updated since the 1950's and is prone to frequent outages because of the remote nature of the park, inhospitable terrain, climate, and tree cover near transmission lines. Additionally, the park's system lacks modern communication infrastructure that would normally facilitate diagnosing and correcting the cause of power outages from NWE's central offices in Montana. Further, the lack of reliable communications inside the park can make it difficult for NWE employees to safely implement repairs when outages occur.
Highlights of the plan include incorporating automated, remote power monitoring and control system technology, as well as the installation of equipment buildings, back-up power generators and propane fuel tanks. Communication technology upgrades include the construction of new metal lattice towers at each of the seven existing NWE electrical substations located within the park and the upgrade of a radio repeater site outside the park on U.S. Forest Service property.